Alaffia – Natural, Eco-friendly, Handmade Soap for Happy Skin

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It’s so easy to run into Target or Walmart, turn your shopping cart towards the pharmacy aisle, and thoughtlessly grab a bottle of shower gel or pack of soap off the shelf when you’re chatting on the phone or preoccupied with kids asking for all the things you don’t want to buy. You either choose the brand that you always buy or perhaps you pick another brand that’s on sale or matches the coupon in your hand. Either way, you may end up spending your money on yet another bath product that may contain ingredients that aren’t good for your skin or the environment.

When I started taking a closer look at the beauty products I was using, I started small and focused only on soaps and lotions. I applied the same approach to reading bath product labels that I applied to food labels. The shorter the ingredient list, the better. The more recognizable and pronounceable the ingredients, the better. Remember, what you put on your skin, goes in. So its really important to minimize your toxin intake as much as possible.

I have mild eczema, so I tend to avoid fragrances in bath products. Since I’ve become aware of the potentially harmful “mystery” ingredients in many common skincare products, I also try to avoid phthalates, petrochemicals, parabens, sulfates, aluminum and synthetic dyes. So I was really excited to find a beautiful selection of natural, handmade, fair-trade soaps for only $1/bar at Whole Foods. In February, the natural foods chain Whole Foods Market launched an exclusive soap with Alaffia called Good Soap and it smells and feels wonderful on my skin. Check out the video on Alaffia’s website to meet the incredible women who so beautifully use traditional African methods to create holistic shea butter soaps that are good for people and the planet. Now that’s green beauty!

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And not only is Good Soap good for me, it is also good for a community of women in Togo, Africa. Proceeds from sale of Alaffia products provide jobs, funds for construction projects and bicycles that kids use to get to school. Plus Whole Foods diverts a portion of the product sales to the Whole Planet Foundation, whose mission is to alleviate poverty worldwide through entrepreneurship. Alaffia soaps are invigorating, affordable, fair-trade products that don’t contain harmful chemicals.

For more about Alaffia, download Whole Foods Market online magazine, Dark Rye (the Body edition) – it is such a good read with a modern, eye-catching design.

#HappyEcoliving

Tonya

How to make a trash can compost bin

I love coffee. So does my hubby. I love coffee for the calmness I experience when I slow down in the midst of a busy morning to sip my perfect pour. My hubby, on the other hand, is hooked on caffeine and gets a crazy headache when he goes a few days without coffee.

I hate waste. Several months ago I started saving our K-cups so I could reuse them as pots to start my vegetable garden seeds indoors. K-cups are just the perfect size to grow a single little seed. So each morning I set our K-cups aside on the counter instead of tossing them into the trash. At the end of two weeks, I noticed how much space the used K-cups were taking up on my kitchen counter. When I finally emptied all the K-cups a few weeks later, I had 6 cups of spent coffee grounds! That’s when it really hit me just how much coffee waste two coffee drinkers (drinking one cup a day) can create in a relatively short amount of time. And that didn’t even take into account the coffee grounds I generated on the weekends when I use my French Press instead of the Keurig machine. After seeing just how much coffee waste we were tossing into trash, I started to think of millions of coffee drinkers in the world and the amount of waste produced in the form of coffee grounds, filters, disposable cups, and the like that needlessly end up in landfills. I shuttered. That’s when I began exploring greener ways to love coffee. And so I started composting.

There are many different styles of compost bins available online and at many lawn and garden stores. But if you have a DIY spirit and want to save some cash, I suggest you build your own compost bin.

All you need is:

1 sturdy 32-gallon black, plastic, round trash can with a tight-fitting lid
2-3 bungee cords
power drill with ½ inch bit

What you need to do:

1. Compost needs air, so drill 25-30 holes around the sides of the trash can and 4-8 holes in the bottom (for adequate drainage). You can drill a few holes in the lid too, if you like.
2. Secure the lid with bungee cords and ensure there’s a snug fit. You don’t want your compost contents spilling out the top when you turn it and you definitely don’t want animals getting into your bin.

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IMG_2663.JPGYou’re not doing the environment or your garden any good with a big empty compost bin, so now it’s time to start recycling your coffee grounds, food scraps and fallen leaves…..but not so fast. You need to know what organic ingredients can — and cannot — be added to your compost bin. Check out the links….learn all you can about composting and why it ROCKS!

Sip more sustainably!!

 

Can I compost diseased plants?

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Now that I’ve started composting, it is hard for me not to throw organic material into the compost bin. Composting coffee grounds, kitchen scraps, and yard debris like fallen tree branches and grass clippings helps reduce the amount of waste filing landfills, but most importantly, it is a way to give energy back to the earth to sustain new life. But when it comes to diseased plants, I resist the urge to compost..

Whether or not to put obviously diseased plants into the compost bin is a highly debated topic. I realize our gardens are living ecosystems and not every speckled and discolored leaf or stem is the sign of a diseased plant. Plants due die of natural causes, you know…. I’m talking about obviously infected plants like my squash plant above that is infected with Squash Vine Borers. Diseased plants like these can potentially cause problems by perpetuating disease among plants where the compost is added. Plant pathogens (disease causing organisms) may survive the decomposition process happening in your compost bin and infect future crops. Typically, pathogens are destroyed when compost heap temperatures reach 130-140 degrees Fahrenheit for at least 3 days. This requires mixing the compost pile well enough to ensure that all areas of the pile reach temps high enough to kill the pathogens. This can be a hard task, so I don’t advise urban gardeners to add obviously diseased plants to their compost bins. It’s simply not worth the risk. I toss my diseased plants in the woods behind our house or I burn them.

However, if you really want to compost diseased plants, I suggest you use methods to ensure your compost pile is consistently hot and that you compost the diseased plants in a different pile to ensure your compost heap is sufficient to destroy pathogens. But at the end of the day, there are no hard and fast rules on this matter. Ultimately, the choice is yours.

So what do you do? Toss ‘em in or keep em’ out?

I’m Not a Perfect Gardener

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Some weeks life gets so busy and before I know it, several days have passed since I last checked the garden for produce ready to harvest. This week I had one of those kinda weeks. I got home late from work one day, the next day it rained, and the third day we rushed out right after dinner to do a bit of school shopping. Needless to say, when I did go out to pick produce, I had a red okra that was over 10 inches long! Way to big to eat at this point. Once okra gets past a certain size, it becomes stringy and woody tasting. I hate this happened because I only seem to get 1-2 okra at a time on a good day. So it really bummed me out that one of these got away from me.

But still, when it comes to gardening, I have learned not to cry over spilled milk. I do my best to limit wasting resources, but I also accept that I’m working full time, taking care of a family and other facets of my wonderful life, so sometimes it’s not possible to harvest produce every day.

I am not a perfect gardener and I do not strive to be. The whole point of my garden is to create a sense of calm in what can be a hectic world. So I will either compost this “huge” red okra or I will let it dry out and try my hand at saving the seeds – which is a DIY garden project I’ve been wanting to try anyway. Pinterest makes seed saving look so easy!

So this week’s mishap created an opportunity for me to try a new aspect of sustainable gardening. Remember, gardening is a calming force and should never be a source of stress in your life. Be calm and garden on!!

Cheap and non-toxic ways to deter garden pests

There is so much life in my garden. Bees buzzing around pollinating flowers. Earthworms aerating the soil by digging tunnels. Cucumber tendrils reaching higher and higher on the trellis. I find myself smiling at the beauty of it all. But nothing wipes a smile off my face faster than the sign of garden pests feasting on my precious produce. As an organic gardener, I avoid using harmful pesticides and insecticides. Nevertheless, there are several cheap and non-toxic ways I can reduce the number of pests inhabiting Mocha Gardens. 20140708-112132-40892044.jpg

Coffee grounds
If you enjoy making coffee at home, your daily cup of joe doubles as a fabulous source of organic matter for your garden. Spent coffee grounds not only provide nitrogen for beneficial soil bacteria, but their abrasive surface makes soft, crawly creatures like slugs and snails go in the opposite direction. I’ve even read that deer can’t stand the smell of coffee grounds so adding them along the perimeter of your garden beds may not be a bad idea.
What if you don’t like coffee or you prefer to buy your favorite brew from a café instead of making it at home? No problem! Starbucks has a program called, Grounds for Your Garden, that offers free coffee grounds to gardeners willing to stop by and pick them up. Even though we make coffee in our household, I use more grounds than I can produce so I usually get a big bag from Starbucks each week for making “tea” and composting. Find a local Starbucks, or other coffee house in your area, and just ask for their spent grounds.

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Plant flowers
Flowers add beauty to any garden space and they contain biological properties that either attract beneficial insects or deter worrisome garden pests. Beneficial insects include ladybugs and praying mantises that feed on insects that cause damage in the garden. Relying on flowers to get rid of garden pests helps gardeners reduce pesticide use and support the natural ecosystem.
Vincas (pictured below) in particular are lovely and inexpensive flowers that bloom all season long and do not require deadheading, as their flowers fall off naturally. They grow well in garden beds and containers with slightly acidic, well-drained soil. But the main reason why I plant vincas in my garden space is to deter deer. It is not uncommon to look out my kitchen window and see 5-6 deer walking through the backyard. Deer will not eat any variety of vincas, so feel free to purchase any color you like!

Marigolds, sunflowers, petunias, and lavender are also great insect repellants.

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Citrus Fruit Rinds
If you can’t move ‘em out, move ‘em in – into citrus fruit orange rinds strategically placed throughout your garden. It’s easy to make an all natural slug and snail trap out of hollow citrus rinds. Simply save the half-rinds from citrus fruits like oranges, lemons and grapefruit. Use a spoon to scoop out out any remaining fruit or pulp. Put the rinds out in the early evening and fill with grape juice or beer. Check back in the morning to see how many slugs you’ve trapped. When your trap is full, get more life out of the fruit rinds by tossing them into your compost bin, if you have one.

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Tomato Plant Problems: rotten bottoms and yellow leaves

I check out my vegetable garden every single day and each day I see something new happening. I’ve been watching my tomato plants very closely because the vines are full of fruit, but they’re still green. I figured they’ll all ripen at the same time and I’ll have more tomatoes than I know what to do with!

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This morning I was surprised to see some of my Tiny Tim tomatoes are finally turning red! But they are ripening with yellow spots and very soft bottoms. As you may guess….I’m devastated. Last summer I lost nearly all my tomatoes due to Blossom End Rot. What can be wrong this time around?

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After a bit of research, it looks like my plants have Tomato Spotted Wilt Virus (TSWV). The virus is a common invader of home gardens and affects the leaves and fruit of tomato plants. The leaves display a yellow, mosaic pattern and/or dark circles while the tomatoes have characteristic yellow spots and streaks across their red skin. Tomatoes infected with TSWV are unfit to eat – fresh or cooked. So that means my tomatoes have to go…..just like last year.

If you know what to look for, you can detect signs of the virus early in the growing season. This is when plants are infected by feeding thrips carrying the virus they picked up from infected weeds. The first signs show up on young leaves as small, dark spots against bronze-colored leaves. That’s the best time to uproot and destroy your tomato plants before the virus spreads.

 

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The bad news for me is that many types of peppers are also susceptible to TSWV – and in Mocha Gardens, two types of peppers (green and jalapeño) just so happen to be growing right next to my Tiny Tim tomatoes.

So what do I do now?

• Get rid of my Tiny Tim tomato plant ASAP
• Check the rest of the tomato varieties in my garden for signs of TSWV. If I see signs of the virus, destroy them.
• Check the peppers in my garden for TSWV. If I see signs of the virus, destroy them too.

 
How are your tomatoes looking this year?

~MG